Where’d You Get That Pork Chop?

June 11, 2020

Food Standards Agency (FSA) blockchain trial improves pork supply chain transparency

Have you ever wondered exactly where your pork chop came from? Getting to the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might expect. But confirming provenance of our food is essential to ensure the safety and sustainability of food supplies. This is why traceability has become a priority for the food manufacturing industry, both domestically and internationally.

Blockchain technology, growing collaboration between key parties and increasing standards in the food value chain are three forces that, together, are changing the food supply chain. They improve the viability of traceability, food waste reduction and sustainability. But how exactly does blockchain influence the global food supply chain?

The FSA, in collaboration with Accenture, set out to evaluate how blockchain technology could be used to enhance the traceability and efficiency of the pork health export certification process.

The FSA’s strategic objective, protecting public health from the risks associated with food production and supply – was a driving force[1]. Through this pilot, the FSA explored the impact blockchain could have throughout the supply chain process – from operations management, to the regulators and ultimately, end-consumers.

R3’s next-gen blockchain platform, Corda, was selected for its strengths in supporting the pilot’s privacy requirements and due to its built-in support for attachments. The blockchain application had both mobile and web interfaces that could be used to input data from ante- and post-mortem veterinarians, including inspections data, approvals, and reporting. This allowed vets, for example, to upload photographs alongside inspection records as tamper-evident documentation, evidence that a pallet had been sealed correctly and had not been further accessed. This helped to reduce manual and duplicated processes, as well as providing a single version of the truth.

The pilot demonstrated that applications built on Corda could establish a neutral shared data model across supply chain participants. Such a set up could provide the framework which in turn could help allow regulators, governments and businesses to work collaboratively, and monitor trends in food supply and consumption, informed by intelligence from across the supply chain.

This provided several key insights:

  1. Proven viability of a blockchain solution, creating simplification and automation of processes through decentralized processing and use of smart contracts.
  2. Demonstrated wider potential for enhanced traceability in the supply chain using blockchain, introducing process transparency which enables audit capability for the FSA and standards organizations, as well as the opportunity for greater consumer assurance on the quality of British meat brands. In addition, Corda enabled privacy of transactions between stakeholders.
  3. Process efficiencies, driven by the Corda applications, reduced duplication of tasks and manual paperwork. This also helped to provide greater confidence in the food supply chain, making it easier for stakeholders to access reliable information, digitally.

Blockchain is already reimagining– and improving – food and agriculture practices 

The FSA is not alone in evaluating blockchain’s potential to transform the food and agriculture industry. Predictions suggest that by 2025 we will see 20% of top global grocers using blockchain[2]. The emerging picture is one of global interest and growing belief in blockchain’s potential to revolutionize food supply chain networks, with the modern consumer in mind. The challenge lies in proactively adhering to standards and increasing collaboration between industry parties to help bridge the technology gap between existing food supply chain networks.

Traceability, data immutability, confidentiality and modularity have all been identified as key benefits of blockchain that could influence complex networks like the global food supply chain. These were validated in the FSA pilot and are common across use cases – even beyond the pork export health certification process. The use of blockchain applications is expected to reduce operational costs and drive revenues for adopters.

The case for change

So why are we so concerned with implementing changes right now? There are a number of reasons, notably increasing operational and regulatory requirements. Equally important are changes in consumption habits. Consumers’ tastes and purchasing habits are changing and food demand globally is growing.

Current food supply chains are under pressure to deal with the rapid changes in demand. In part because of the reliance on highly manual administrative processes. These manual processes have historically proved slow in efforts to withdraw or recall unsafe food[3] and often result in significant waste. Regulations compound the sustainability problem[4] because food law considers a whole batch unsafe unless demonstrated otherwise[5].

For both consumers and food business operators, these findings highlight the significant potential impact of blockchain on the global food industry.

Food safety and recalls

In 2019, a total of 641 food recalls were recorded in the United States – 124 of which were meat or poultry – with an average cost per recall of $7.6m. Overall, this cost the industry approximately $4.87bn in wastage.[6] On top of these costs, a joint industry study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Consumer Brands Association, identified significant financial impact for food companies through brand damage and lost sales. Using a blockchain-driven solution, the costs involved in searching for the root cause of any food safety issue could be dramatically reduced – track and trace can cut the time to track a product from 6 days to 2.2 seconds[7]!

Food Business Operators (FBOs)

Food supply chains are increasingly complex and wastage at each stage is a key issue for FBOs.[8]Blockchain’s digital status and consensus mechanisms could help to reduce human error, instantly matching Rules of Origin requirements, while increasing general process efficiency.

Brand transparency and sustainability

Unifying the end-to-end supply chain on a blockchain could be marketed as a guarantee of product traceability, improving brand reputation and securing competitive advantages by gaining the trust of modern consumers.[9]

Blockchain is just the beginning

Blockchain technology promises significant potential to improve global food supply chain practices. But it is only one element of the exciting – and much broader – digital and process transformation journey that lies ahead:

Food for thought…

There’s a convincing case for change where current practices in the food manufacturing industry and supply chain are concerned.

The findings from the engagement between the FSA and Accenture have further underlined the potential for blockchain technology to play a key part in positively shaping end-to-end food traceability.

Looking ahead, an expansion of the ecosystem to include regulators and key industry players will pave the way to a safer, auditable and more sustainable future for the food industry and consumers.

This document is intended for general informational purposes only and does not take into account the reader’s specific circumstances and may not reflect the most current developments.  Accenture, FSA and R3 do not provide legal, regulatory, audit, or tax advice. Readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel or other licensed professionals.

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Sources

[1] Food.gov.uk: Food We Trust
[2] Coin Telegraph: Prediction: 20 Percent of Leading Global Grocers to Use Blockchain by 2025
[3] Forbes.com: IBM & Walmart Launching Blockchain Food Safety Alliance In China With Fortune 500’s JD.com; The Converstation: How blockchain technology could transform the food industry
[4] [5] Food.gov.uk: Guidance on Food Traceability, Withdrawals and Recalls within the UK Food Industry
[6] Statista.com: How Safe Is U.S. Food?
[7] ResearchGate.com: Food Traceability on Blockchain: Walmart’s Pork and Mango Pilots with IBM
[8] Phys.org: Human error major driver of food waste
[9] Nielson.com: Total Consumer Report: December 2018